I have to admit that I’ve NEVER seen any Poirot — vintage, modern, you name it. I’m sorry, gods of all things 1930s! Recently my film-buff husband made me watch Evil Under the Sun (1982) which I actually quite enjoyed, so we followed it up last week with Death on the Nile (1978). I particularly wanted to see the latter, as it won the Oscar for Best Costume Design that year. I’ll talk about the two in chronological order, though.
Both films were quite entertaining! I liked Peter Ustinov as Poirot (although I’m told that he may not be everyone’s ultimate Belgian detective), and I liked the twee British-ness of them both. Although while clearly the “we’re civilized Brits in a savage land” thing was played tongue-in-cheek, at the same time, it felt like that was the honest feeling of the film, which was a little squicky. I liked that both films take their time establishing characters and plot before the murder happens, that there are SO many possible suspects, and although it would be pretty tough to guess who actually did it, the Big Reveal of the Murderer isn’t TOTALLY out of left field. (Sometimes mysteries do that, where there is no way you could ever possibly have gotten any clues, and that’s just stupid. It makes the Big Reveal a tell, not show.)
In terms of costumes, yeah Death on the Nile was pretty darn stunning. Evil Under the Sun had some good elements, but let too much of 1982 creep in. Both were designed by Anthony Powell, who won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design for Death on the Nile. He also won it for Travels With My Aunt (1972) and Tess (1979) and was nominated for Pirates (1986), Hook (1991), and 102 Dalmatians (2000).
Death on the Nile Costumes
There’s some lead up, but essentially, a whole bunch of Brits end up on a boat headed up the Nile River in Egypt. You’ve got Poirot (the Belgian detective); a wealthy heiress and her new husband, who she stole from her best friend (Mia Farrow) and who is along to make the newlyweds’ lives hell; the heiress’s maid and her lawyer; Bette Davis as an older rich lady with her companion, the testy and very boyish Maggie Smith; Angela Lansbury as a hilariously dramatic romance novelist, along with her shy daughter; a colonel; a communist; and a famous doctor. Phew!
I don’t want to give away too much plot, so let’s just get to the costumes, shall we?
I haven’t seen the other films nominated for that year (Caravans, Days of Heaven, The Swarm, The Wiz), but I’d say that Anthony Powell’s win was richly deserved, just based on the quality of this film.
Evil Under the Sun Costumes
This film came out four years later, with many of the same actors as Death on the Nile. This time the setting is a remote Mediterranean resort in the fictional country of Tyrania, which is run by Maggie Smith’s character, a retired actress and former mistress to the King of Tyrania. Again you’ve got a bunch of Brits on holiday in a closed setting. This time, Poirot is joined by Arlena (the starting-to-age star actress, played by Diana Rigg), her new husband and his daughter (who is NOT happy about her new stepmother); Patrick and Christine, a young-ish couple — Patrick clearly cheats right and left on Christine, who is very wallflowery; the American producer and his wife, who are desperate to get Arlena to star in a new theater production; and Roddy McDowall as a songwriter.
The story and dialogue are just as good as Evil Under the Sun, and again the movie takes its time setting up the plot and characters, and gives you a slight chance at being able to solve the murder (but very slight).
The problem is that the costumes are 1930s mashed with 1980s:
All in all, both were very entertaining, but Death on the Nile wins hands down for accurate and gorgeous costumes, while Evil Under the Sun gets knocked down a point or two for letting the 1980s creep in.
Are you a Poirot fan? Are you an art deco fan? What do you think of these films and their costumes?
Loved both films. Ustinov played Poirot as well as anyone before David Suchet, who has probably established the benchmark for future actors. But you hit my English button with the “Big Reveal”! I hate this rubbish of using verbs as nouns because apparently the younger generation is too poorly educated to know the difference between verbs and nouns. Revelation and failure are still the proper nominative forms despite what TV commentators seems to think.
Not only is Suchet pretty much the definitive Poirot—this according to Christie’s grandson—but the period feel of the programs is spot on, starting with the opening Art Deco animated credits—complete with a De Chirico finish—and playing through in the sets and costumes.
Yes, these are quite wonderful films, DOTN being one of my very favorite movies. There are many reasons to love it, the wonderful costumes being among them. To get off the subject but in gentle disagreement with you, I believe there is a place for the word “reveal” when speaking of the denouement in a film, play, etc. Check this out and see if you might agree: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/63056/reveal-vs-revelation-as-nouns
If you enjoyed these two, then you really *must* see the 1974 version of “Murder on the Orient Express.” Stellar cast, excellent story, and the costumes are glorious. Whenever I’m feeling drab and humdrum, I watch this to remember what glamour used to be.
Yep. James Coco was an excellent Poirot, and I believe Ingrid Bergmann won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role.
MoHub … James Coco was Poirot in Murder by Death, not on Murder on the Orient Express … that was Albert Finney :-)
You are so right! It was indeed Finney. But he sure looked like Coco in that makeup!
Apparently for the location (on the boat) parts of Death on the Nile, Smith, Landsbury and Davis shared a dressing room due to the cramped quarters … oh to be a fly on *that* wall when the cocktails came out after a long day of glamor :-)
Also, Niven and Ustinov were old chums. They served in the Army together, and Ustinov was Niven’s batman (military valet).
Since Niven was seconded from a Highland regiment to the Commandos, it must have made for some interesting times for Ustinov. For anyone who might not know. Patrick MacNee, Niven’s cousin, served in the Royal Navy.
Evil Under the Sun is one of my favorite movies of all time! (Next to REBECCA) – SO happy you got around to a Frock Flicks review. Even as a little girl, I knew it was very 80’s in its 1930’s way, but I just didn’t care :) I used this in Grad School in one of many semesters of Costume History when we analyzed costumes in film – noting elements of when the contemporary influenced the film’s time period.
Death on the Nile – also a classic! I just love Ustinov as Poirot – but Souchet is also fantastic – and that series has great costumes!
[“Linnet’s ex-best-friend is Jacqueline, played by Mia Farrow with a questionable English accent. She’s decently slinky and sparkly too.”]
Her accent is “questionable” because her character is an American (with Latin ancestry) who went to school in England.
Okay, I missed that factoid! That helps!
I think you’re reading too much into the 1980s aspect of the costumes for “EVIL UNDER THE SUN”. The movie was set in the late 1930s, not the early or mid part of that decade. And you also have to take into account that most of the characters are/were in show business or came from new money . . . aside from the Redferns, who were definitely middle-class.
You’re probably right about me seeing too much 1980s… Except for Maggie Smith’s hair! Gah!
I remember exactly that Anthony Powell picked the year of its setting as 1936. And there is that “conspicuous consumption” Reagan-era 1980s influence, as she wrote, although she should give them a break with Smith’s hair, as the initial marcelled look was awful for that character.
you didn’t show my absolute favorite outfit from Evil Under the Sun – Christine’s stunning black & white ensemble, at the end, when she wasn’t playing the mousy wife anymore. I’ve always wanted to wear that outfit!
I was worried that showing that would spoil things!
Kendra, you absolutely are right – major spoiler!
Yes, so very angular and chic and then she jinxes it as she rips apart Maggie Smith: “Your ensemble (French pronunciation) does nothing for you.”
Kendra, I very much enjoyed this page as I am a Agatha Christie devotee. And yes, I do agree w/you that the 80’s were too prominent when it came to outfits and hair. This decade exaggerated the mane and shoulders by using graphics and bold colors, etc. You are totally right on. I could not believe – that anyone would even think of wearing those fruit jellies and fruit bowl – a la Carmen Miranda. But of course, having Betty, Diana, Angela and Dame Maggie – how can a film loose (?) These ladies are the best in cinema. :)
my dad loves the robe worn by peter ustinov in evil under the sun he keeps threatening to look for one i am at the moment but cant find one was it especially made i wonder and who has it now
Love both of these films! I’m a published paper doll artist, and am currently working on a paper doll set of characters from “Death on the Nile”…the intricate costumes are challenging, but it’s a labor of love!
Won’t you notify me of the paper dolls? I thought only Tom Tierney was doing that sort of thing. I am much obliged. Will you be including Vuitton luggage for Arlene Marshall?
Will do, Frederic. Tom was just the most prolific! The Vuitton luggage would be a nice extra for extra Arlena!
Frederic, type in my name at Instagram…my page has many images of my Agatha Christie paper dolls…
I too had moments of amusement watching Death on the Nile, and I really enjoy when designers get right things like the period bathing dress and bohemian looks. I would love your take on the BBC Suchet Poirot series. Miss Lemon’s costumes are great imho although not sure if they are technically accurate to Christie’s original character who I thought was supposed to be more doudy. She is fastidious though which totally works costume wise. There are so many details in the series that I find them a stylistic pleasure to watch.
I love the costumes best in “Death on the Nile:, they gave me my first taste of modern interpretation of vintage as a girl. The black and white theme reminds me a bit of “The Cat’s Meow” which was also quite amazing.
David Suchet IS the best Poirot, and the series sports some delicious clothing and sets. The perfect subject for a few new posts – I’m a big fan so I whole heartily approve.
A fine article and you make a good point about the 1980s bleeding into EUTS and especially Smith’s hair, but have you looked at the first hairstyle she sported: marcel waves. There are several photos of her in pre-publicity but I am thinking she looked to severa and mannish as if her Daphne was an extension of Bette Davis’ companion from DOTN, It is rare for a period film to not be polluted by the times in which it’s shot: Julie Christie in DR ZHIVAGO comes to mind, but there are exceptions, e.g., another Anthony Powell job and Oscar winner: TESS.
The costumes for DOTN were fine but so safe. Surely someone would have worn overly colorful shirts or jackets in the desert (besides the obvious Salome Otterbourne).
And I was gobsmacked after years of just a generic Cole Porter cassette offered as the companion to the EUTS film when the actual soundtrack was released!
The guy who remade Orient Express is about to launch a new Death on tha Nile the trailer wasn’t very promising to me and get Wonder Woman to play your bitchy rich murder victim just doesn’t seems right. What do you think?